John 11:32-44 (11:36) – November 7, 2021
What happens when you and I get discouraged? Disheartened? Anxious, upset, and grieving? I know, in my life, it is difficult for me to get up and get going when I feel this way. It’s so hard to continue doing the normal, everyday things that need to get done in my life.
Have you ever experienced this kind of an invisible wall? Or, has someone close to you ever come up against something like this? These kinds of deep feelings happen with sad regularity among people who have just lost a loved one, a dear relative.
We take a close look, up close and personal, on an encounter our Lord Jesus had with some dear friends. His friends Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus often extended their hospitality to Jesus when He came through Bethany. Lazarus has become very ill. His sisters are very much concerned for their brother! Plus, they all know that their good friend Rabbi Jesus is not far away. Can’t they send a message to the nearby town? Where is Jesus? Can’t He come?
So many people let us down, here in this world. Either on purpose, or accidentally. Even unconsciously, sometimes. I know, it still happens. We get let down, time and again. It feels like a punch in the gut, sometimes! It hurts! Oh, the disappointment, the discouragement, even the despair, as good friends have a family member in intensive care. Or, a relative gets a serious diagnosis. Or, another close loved one is involved in an accident. Whatever happens, it is not good! Where is Jesus? Can’t He be here, right next to us?
` “We are invited to find our own story within these pages of Scripture, for who has not become personally acquainted with sickness and despair or known of someone who has. The hard facts are laid out in earlier verses of this chapter.”  Martha and Mary send a message – an SOS, distress call! – to their good friend the Rabbi Jesus, in a town nearby. “Lord, the one You love is sick.” Jesus’s response? “This sickness will not end in death.” As the messenger dashes back to Bethany to relay the response, can you hear the collective sigh of relief? “Ahh! Jesus knows that Lazarus will not die. Even though he is very sick, at least we have the assurance from our friend that Lazarus will stay here with us.”
We all know what ends up happening. Sadly, Lazarus does die. Oh, the despair and devastation of Mary and Martha! Didn’t Jesus promise us that Lazarus wouldn’t die? Where, oh, where is Jesus just when Mary, Martha and especially Lazarus need Him most?
Can you remember sitting through the darkest part of the night, with darkness and despair closing in around your heart? A vigil in a hospital, or in a care center. Or with a loved one at home, next to the bed. Crying until you don’t have any tears left to cry. Where is Jesus?
That is how it was with Martha and Mary. Except, their brother died. They buried him, several days before. And now, days too late, the Rabbi Jesus finally arrives.
We read Martha’s resounding testimony of belief in Jesus, just before the reading Eileen did for us today.. Martha met Jesus on the road near their house, and she confirmed what may people of that time were thinking. When Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again,” she responded “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.“
Amen! Martha, you’ve got it exactly right! Yes, we all shall rise at that last day! That is our blessed hope. That is consistent with what is preached in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Plus, Jesus is not done with this conversation. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will never die.” And, Jesus presses His point! He asks Martha a follow-up question, “Do you believe this?”
What a roller coaster of strong emotions and deep feelings Martha and Mary have been riding, for the past week! What can they possibly be experiencing right now? We know Martha makes the ringing statement to Jesus: “Yes, Lord. I believe You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” Oh, glory be! What a testimony, Martha!
And then, wonder of wonders! We see Jesus openly weep. Weeping, letting deeply held feelings out is something that anyone, that all of us can do. It’s okay! It is permissible to weep, we realize – because – our Lord Jesus did. Even though Jesus knew the rest of the story.
Where is Jesus? Ah, the gateway to hope! Jesus takes charge, and commands Lazarus to come out of the tomb. Just as the risen and ascended Jesus Christ will call every person to rise on that last day, from all four corners of the earth and under the sea, so Jesus did with authority and power. “Lazarus, come forth!” And, wonder of wonders, Lazarus does exactly that! This miracle is a preview, promo, coming attraction of what the returning Jesus will do at the end of all time.
In today’s sin-sick world of anxiety, grieving and despair, we need more than feel-good remedies and cheery “spirituality-lite” can offer. In the end, these surface remedies are no substitute for deep believing faith and relationship with God. God’s wellness “can come to help us to participate in God’s healing agenda in the word. In our poverty, a gracious hand is working out even the smallest details of our lives.” 
As we depend on our relationship and faith in God, we find that much in this world is redeemed. As we lean on relationship with each other in this life, even when faced with death itself, we see with eyes of hope that new life can spring up, through faith in Jesus Christ.
Yes, there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul, to make the wounded whole, and His name is Jesus. Amen, alleluia!
(Thank you to Kenyatta R. Gilbert and her commentary on John 11L28-44. I took several expanded ideas from this excellent commentary for this sermon.)
Commentary, John 11:28-44, Kenyatta R. Gilbert, The African American Lectionary, 2009.